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Download The Lady and the Panda: The True Adventures of the First American Explorer to Bring Back China's Most Exotic Animal Audiobook

Extended Audio Sample The Lady and the Panda: The True Adventures of the First American Explorer to Bring Back Chinas Most Exotic Animal, by Vicki Constantine Croke Click for printable size audiobook cover
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (528 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Vicki Constantine Croke, Vicki Croke Narrator: Jennifer Van Dyck Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Abridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: July 2005 ISBN: 9780739320952
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Here is the astonishing true story of Ruth Harkness, the Manhattan bohemian socialite who, against all but impossible odds, trekked to Tibet in 1936 to capture the most mysterious animal of the day: a bear that had for countless centuries lived in secret in the labyrinth of lonely cold mountains. In The Lady and the Panda, Vicki Constantine Croke gives us the remarkable account of Ruth Harkness and her extraordinary journey, and restores Harkness to her rightful place along with Sacajawea, Nellie Bly, and Amelia Earhart as one of the great woman adventurers of all time.

Ruth was the toast of 1930s New York, a dress designer newly married to a wealthy adventurer, Bill Harkness. Just weeks after their wedding, however, Bill decamped for China in hopes of becoming the first Westerner to capture a giant panda–an expedition on which many had embarked and failed miserably. Bill was also to fail in his quest, dying horribly alone in China and leaving his widow heartbroken and adrift. And so Ruth made the fateful decision to adopt her husband’s dream as her own and set off on the adventure of a lifetime.

It was not easy. Indeed, everything was against Ruth Harkness. In decadent Shanghai, the exclusive fraternity of white male explorers patronized her, scorned her, and joked about her softness, her lack of experience and money. But Ruth ignored them, organizing, outfitting, and leading a bare-bones campaign into the majestic but treacherous hinterlands where China borders Tibet. As her partner she chose Quentin Young, a twenty-two-year-old Chinese explorer as unconventional as she was, who would join her in a romance as torrid as it was taboo.

Traveling across some of the toughest terrain in the world–nearly impenetrable bamboo forests, slick and perilous mountain slopes, and boulder-strewn passages–the team raced against a traitorous rival, and was constantly threatened by hordes of bandits and hostile natives. The voyage took months to complete and cost Ruth everything she had. But when, almost miraculously, she returned from her journey with a baby panda named Su Lin in her arms, the story became an international sensation and made the front pages of newspapers around the world. No animal in history had gotten such attention. And Ruth Harkness became a hero. 

Drawing extensively on American and Chinese sources, including diaries, scores of interviews, and previously unseen intimate letters from Ruth Harkness, Vicki Constantine Croke has fashioned a captivating and richly textured narrative about a woman ahead of her time. Part Myrna Loy, part Jane Goodall, by turns wisecracking and poetic, practical and spiritual, Ruth Harkness is a trailblazing figure. And her story makes for an unforgettable, deeply moving adventure.

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Listener Opinions

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Tara | 2/18/2014

    " Non-fiction is not my favorite, so most of my NF reading is by force. But this is an example of why book clubs are so great! This was required reading, and I loved it. Ruth Harkness was an amazing woman, and it was fascinating to read about a time before the term "endangered species" was created. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Ellen | 2/12/2014

    " This was an interesting account of the adventurer responsible for bringing back America's first Panda. More of a biography than I normally go for but the history involved was very interesting. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Kathy | 2/11/2014

    " This is a story of an interesting American woman who very few people know of. Ruth Harkness was a Manhattan socialite, who after her husband died, committed her life to carrying our her husband's dream of being the first to capture a giant panda and bring it to America. This is a fascinating account of her journey to Tibet in 1936 and the challenges she faced securing America's first panda. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Tiffany | 2/6/2014

    " My friend Adam (refrax on my friends list) got this book for me for my birfday. I liked it. I wasn't pleased with the treatment of the pandas back then, but that doesn't have anything to do with the book, I suppose. This woman basically dedicates her life to fulfilling the dream her husband died chasing. It's sad and happy at the same time. I would recommend it to...any other Tiffanys out there! "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Caroline | 1/22/2014

    " This is a well-researched and engrossing non-fiction book about a complex, New York socialite named Ruth Harkness. Harkness made three expeditions to China and was the first person to bring live pandas to the U.S. I don't think that this book is everyone's cup of tea, but my book group had the benefit of speaking with the author, Vicki Constantine Croke, who is a former animal news reporter, for two hours at our group meeting. I gained a lot of respect for Harkness, who is not always a likeable character, after hearing Croke speak and learned a lot about the impact she had on the animal rights movement. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Amelia Mapstone | 1/19/2014

    " Oh, I must say, I ADORE pandas! These creatures are just amazing and sweet! I loved this book as much as I love them! (I read it last year in the beginning of school) "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Cindy | 1/18/2014

    " What a wonderful book. Very human/ heartwarming and adventurous. Ruth Harkness was a strong woman, not your average socialite. I don't know if I could do what she did, especially given the times while she was in China. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Nichole | 1/15/2014

    " This is a very interesting book about the woman that went to China and brought back the first giant panda to the United States. Ruth Harkness was truly a woman that craved adventure. I liked the book a lot, but it took me forever to finish it. I kept falling asleep. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Judith | 1/7/2014

    " Listened to it on tape. Enjoyed it very much. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Cdownard | 1/3/2014

    " Interesting story although at times annoyingly romanticized. Wonder how much of it is true. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Lindsay | 12/24/2013

    " Pandas are my favorite animal so naturally, I thought this book was amazing. It was great to learn how the species came to America and I loved reading about Ruth's adventures to bring Su Lin to the States. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Margery | 12/20/2013

    " A wonderful trip to China in the 30's with an unlikely woman who brought back the first live panda to the U.S. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Margaret Sankey | 10/28/2013

    " Bored, rich NY socialite in the 1920's? Why not trek into western China during a civil war to try and bring back a live baby panda? "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Koren | 10/3/2013

    " really fun, spirited read about a bohemian lady explorer who goes to china in search for a panda. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Elizabeth | 3/7/2013

    " Can't believe this woman and her incredible story aren't better known! Fascinating subject, time period, history lesson... + PANDAS! (yes, there are photos in the book) We owe a great debt to her. I highly recommend this book. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Danell | 12/29/2012

    " A true adventure story of Ruth Harkness, which takes place in the jungles of China. The ensuing live capture of the first giant panda and the pandas life at the Brookfield Zoo, make for a captivating story. Later in the book, it becomes a sad tale as Ruth struggles with alcohol and depression. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Jacqui Lafrance | 10/15/2012

    " A colorful retell of the passionate life of Ruth Harkness- from opulent New York City parties to remote regions of China during Japanese invasions of the 1930's. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Amanda | 5/6/2012

    " I enjoyed the book overall, but there were several parts that were quite far fetched. I did enjoy the details of the Chinese countryside. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Rachael | 4/7/2012

    " The ending kind of fizzled out, but otherwise a good read. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Carolyn | 2/18/2012

    " Read several years ago, and just thought of it. A very memorably excellent book. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Brie | 11/23/2011

    " Ruth Harkness is awesome. Dress designer socialite turned explorer, hanging out in Shanghai in the 30s, getting bored of parties, wandering around Chengdu, hanging out with pandas... She is so so cool. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Erica | 10/8/2011

    " This book is about the first american explorer's trip to China to bring back a giant panda. I liked it, but it was a little slow. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Jenifer | 10/7/2011

    " This was a very interesting book. Lots of Chinese history and depression era history. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Azure Olson | 10/4/2011

    " Great adventure story and very heart warming!!! "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Holly | 4/14/2011

    " A very unlikely true story with a frank and admirable herione. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Marvin Gesher Jay Deniega | 4/6/2011

    " a good book, though i find it boring at first. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Madeleine | 1/28/2011

    " Interesting - a fascinating woman and I learned things about this period in China's history I didn't really know. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Jessica | 1/12/2011

    " It just was not interesting enough to merit 300 pages. It would have been a super fun 100 page book, because the story itself is cool. I was just skimming, trying to get to the end. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Joanna | 1/2/2011

    " Very interesting nonfiction. I like how she dealt with the ethical issues. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Lindsay | 7/19/2010

    " Pandas are my favorite animal so naturally, I thought this book was amazing. It was great to learn how the species came to America and I loved reading about Ruth's adventures to bring Su Lin to the States. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Becky | 6/6/2010

    " This is in my daughter's collection which I'm holding for her. What a good story - Shanghai in the 1930s, a Bohemian socialite whose most lasting memorial is changing the way the world perceives wild animals. From killing and bringing home a carcass, to studying a live animal. I never knew.... "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Suzanne | 4/3/2010

    " Story of Ruth Harkness, woman in the 1930's to bring back the first live panda to the US--good book
    "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Rachel | 3/17/2010

    " This book grabs the reader from the beginning. It is reads like fiction instead of nonfiction. There must have been something about some women of that era - like Amelia Earhart and the heroine of this book - that they just busted loose and yearned for constant adventure! "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Cindy | 2/14/2010

    " What a wonderful book. Very human/ heartwarming and adventurous. Ruth Harkness was a strong woman, not your average socialite. I don't know if I could do what she did, especially given the times while she was in China. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Annette | 7/15/2009

    " I'm listening to this on CD. It is an adventure in the 1930's china where a women is the adventurer. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Rebecca | 7/11/2009

    " I would have gladly given The Lady and the Panda five stars had Croke not indulged in my least-favorite literary device thrice too often: foreshadowing. Otherwise, this is a poignant yet charming tale of a heartbroken widow's search for meaning in a war-torn country. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Pandabearhug | 6/2/2009

    " Could use less lady and more panda. The bits about turn-of-the-century Shanghai, the bureaucratic difficulties of organizing an expedition, and the many characters she met all stand out, while Ruth Harkness became less and less likable and interesting as the book went on. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Sherry | 5/22/2009

    " Interesting story about how the first Panda came to America. "

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